Arts & Events

The MLK Monument: In the Style of Soviet Social Realism?

By Raymond Barglow
Wednesday August 31, 2011 - 09:48:00 AM

Martin Luther King will be the first non-president and the first African-American to be honored on the National Mall in Washington DC. It’s about time! MLK is one of the towering, heroic figures of the 20th century.

The design of the memorial is based on an image in MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, “We will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” Like many of MLK’s metaphors, this one is compelling, but does it translate well into sculpture? From the time this monument was proposed over a decade ago until now, the project has been criticized on both esthetic and political grounds. 

One objection has been to the allegedly authoritarian artistic style of the monument, which presents King as a stone figure 28 feet high, more than 50% taller than the nearby statues of Lincoln and Jefferson. The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts found in 2008 that “the colossal scale and Social Realist style of the proposed statue recalls a genre of political sculpture that has recently been pulled down in other countries…. the proposed treatment of the sculpture—as the most iconographic and central element of the memorial to Dr. King—would be unfortunate and inappropriate as an expression of his legacy.” 

Full article is here.